Early in 2020, a caller to The Rush Limbaugh Show made an unusual request.
Following a conversation with the host, he asked to speak off-air to the program’s call screener, Bo Snerdley. Limbaugh, perplexed, agreed to make that happen. He later admitted a suspicion the caller was trying to “grease the wheels” to return to the show at a later date.
Instead, as Limbaugh found out during a commercial break, the caller made an unsolicited offer to donate one of his lungs to the iconic radio host, if it were to aid in his recovery. Snerdley then told Limbaugh he had been receiving similar calls from other listeners. Multiple offers, every day.
Back on-air, a clearly emotional Limbaugh was taken aback by the revelation. Perhaps even he had underestimated the power and strength of the relationship he had built with his audience over more than 30 years on the radio.
Radio is, by nature, an intimate medium. Many listeners tune in while they’re alone — driving, walking or exercising, working around the house. On headphones or earbuds, the phenomenon is even more pronounced. The host, your friend, is talking directly into your ear, perhaps even whispering at times for effect.
No one was better at cultivating and growing that host/listener relationship than Rush Limbaugh. Every weekday at noon, the “Doctor of Democracy” and “America’s Truth Detector” would burst through the speakers, unfailingly upbeat and optimistic about the nation’s future. Millions of Americans tuned in, as if waiting for a friend to arrive at a standing lunch date. What would be discussed? News, politics, and current events, certainly; but also technology, sports, culture, television, and film. Limbaugh sprayed to all fields.
Limbaugh perhaps inadvertently added to the intimate nature of the program by rarely featuring guests and taking audience calls sparingly. For many hours each week, it was solely Limbaugh’s voice talking to the nation, a virtual one-to-one connection through the magic of radio.
Though available freely to all, the show developed a kind of “secret society” around it. Early on in the show’s history, every-day listeners would gather in “Rush Rooms” in certain cities to have a shared broadcast experience. At diners, Limbaugh fans ate lunch while listening to his program. Later callers to the show often would speak about how they enjoyed listening alongside their parents while growing up. The Limbaugh influence literally spanned generations.
On the flip side, nonfans just didn’t get it. Critics seemed to lob insults without having actually heard more than a few snippets of a broadcast and overlooked how entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny Limbaugh could be. Those broadsides by outsiders merely galvanized existing listeners in defense of their host.
From the beginning, Limbaugh’s show was a beacon for conservatives around the country, making it clear they were not alone in their thinking. In good times and bad, Limbaugh was there, whether conservatism was ascending or temporarily in retreat. The quality of the program never was dependent on who held the White House or which party controlled Congress.
It’s that consistency which likely will be missed most. Tomorrow, next month, next year, a voice will be missing from the radio dial which simply cannot be replaced. A long-time friend is missing from the lunch table, from the empty passenger seat, from those daily routines that were made easier with Limbaugh’s show alongside.
In his final broadcast message of 2020, Limbaugh looked forward to the year ahead, uncertain of how long he would be able to continue hosting the show. He wanted his listeners to understand that even when the day arrived that they would not hear his voice, it would not be due to lack of desire. “I have this sense of needing to constantly show my appreciation for all that you have done and meant to me,” Limbaugh said. “I wish there were a way to say it other than ‘thank you.’”
Rush loved his listeners. His listeners loved Rush. The bond was unbreakable, as he often said, and both sides clearly were lucky to have the other.